School District 65’s operating referendum passed by a wide margin on April 4, with 14,927 people voting in favor of the referendum, and 3,628 opposed. Slightly more than 80% voted “yes.”

The referendum will provide an additional $14.5 million in funding for District 65 in year one, and slightly higher amounts in subsequent years. On average, homeowners will see a 5.8% increase in their property tax bill that will carry through from year to year.

The referendum will enable District 65 to balance its operating budget and maintain its educational programs for the next eight years. It will also provide a source of funding for technology and enable the District to move forward with about $15.2 million in capital projects.

While the referendum is structured to sustain the District for the next eight years, the funding will enable the District to manage its budget if the State makes significant cuts in State funding to the District or freezes property taxes.

“I am extremely humbled and appreciative of the support Evanston and Skokie voters gave through the successful passage of the referendum,” Paul Goren, Superintendent of District 65 told the RoundTable. “We are very fortunate to live in a community that not only embraces public education but champions the important work of our teachers, support staff, and administrators in educating our children. Our community has expressed confidence and a commitment to a continued investment in our public education system. I can promise that we will not take this investment for granted. We will work to accelerate our momentum on student achievement, literacy and reading, and social and emotional learning while remaining focused on equity and equitable outcomes.

“We recognize that there were a number of people who voted both for and against the referendum and who are rightfully concerned about fiscal prudence. I want to assure our taxpayers that the Board and administration remain committed to reducing the structural deficit, exerting effective fiscal management, and identifying efficiencies. This includes the development and implementation of a funding policy this spring.”

Board President Candance Chow told the RoundTable, “On behalf of the School Board, we are deeply grateful for the support of our community. The passing of this referendum demonstrates the strong value that our community places on public education. The Evanston and Skokie community has made an investment not only in the future of our community schools but in the futures of over 8,000 children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. 

“The support of this referendum was nothing short of amazing.  We do recognize that not everyone voted in favor of the referendum. It was a difficult decision putting the question on the ballot. Yet, given the financial challenges on the horizon, it was important for the community to have a say in how the District addressed these challenges. And the community has spoken regarding what it prides and wants to protect.

“Our School Board remains committed to being strong fiscal stewards of taxpayer dollars. Even with the passing of the referendum, we will continue to identify operational efficiencies and find creative solutions to bring in additional revenue. We are appreciative of everyone who made their voice heard by voting in Tuesday’s election.”

Tracy Quattrocki, the Board’s current Chair of the Finance Committee and past President of the School Board told the RoundTable, “I feel incredibly lucky to be part of a community that values education so highly. This vote means so much for every student in this District for years to come. I know the administration and the Board will work hard to use every dollar wisely to educate our children.  And what a relief it will be to reverse the very painful cuts the Board voted on last month.”  

Richard Rykhus, a former Board member and former Chair of the Finance Committee who actively supported the referendum, told the RoundTable, “In recent years Illinois school districts have overwhelmingly rejected additional funding for schools. Evanston not only agreed last night to provide additional funding to our schools, the 80-20 margin of victory sent a resounding message that across our community we are committed to high quality public education. This was truly a collective effort that brought home a ‘win’ for every student, parent, teacher and staff member in our District.”

The Committee to Save Our Schools, an ad hoc citizens committee that formed to support the referendum, partnered with PTAs to provide information about the referendum at nine of the District’s schools and hosted other events. Superintendent Paul Goren and/or School Board members attended these and other forums throughout the community to provide information, including at Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center, St. Nicholas Church, McGaw Y, Y.O.U., Grace Lutheran Church.

Andy Ross, a member of the Committee, told the RoundTable the Committee led a grass roots effort to get the word out. “We had hundreds of volunteers who knocked on more than 20,000 doors, put up 2,000 yard signs, made and sent thousands of phone calls and emails, and hosted dozens of events to reach as many of our friends, families and neighbors as we possibly could.”

In a joint statement, Mr. Ross and Bridget Nelson, also a member of the Committee, said, “We voted yes to keep our schools the strong, incredibly special institutions they are by balancing the District’s budget for the next eight years, bringing more innovation and technology to the classrooms, strengthening our core curriculum, continuing investments in enhancing equity, and reducing the achievement gap and investing in long overdue school capital projects.     

“This represents an investment in our kids, our community, and our homes.

“But we were also aware that any property tax increase will be a burden for many of our residents. We are committed to working together to find solutions with our elected officials to make sure Evanston continues working for all of us. 

“Like so many of you, we are incredibly proud to call Evanston home. Proud to be part of such a diverse, engaged, and compassionate community. We know our schools are at the very core of everything we treasure and we know that passing this referendum was critical to protecting our Evanston.”

On March 20 the School Board decided to make $5.1 million in cuts for the 2017-18 school year, as a contingency plan in case the referendum failed. With the approval of the referendum, the school-based cuts and some of the central office cuts will be reversed.  

Snapshot of the Referendum

The latest financial projections prepared by the District show that its operating deficits will grow from $5.1 million in FY’18 (the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018) to $24.4 million in FY’25.

The referendum will provide an additional $14.5 million in funding in year one. In subsequent years, it will provide an additional $14.5 million per year, plus increases on that amount permitted under tax caps. Over the next eight years, the referendum is projected to generate an additional $135.6 million.

The plan is that the referendum funding will generate a surplus in the early years that will be used to cover higher deficits in the later years.

The $135.6 million will be enough to cover the projected operating deficits in the next eight years, which total $112.3 million, enable the District to maintain its current education program, and provide a source of funding for technology. It will leave $23.3 million that can be used to enhance educational opportunities, to enable the District to move forward with some limited capital projects, and to maintain the working cash fund balance at 19% of operating expenses. Best practices aim for between 25% and 40% in working cash.

The funding that will become available for capital projects will total about $15.2 million over the next eight years. This will enable the District to construct double-vestibule safe entrances for the five remaining schools that do not have them, make priority replacements of air-handler units and boilers, and make some roofing and masonry repairs.

Finally, while the referendum is structured to sustain the District for the next eight years, the funding will enable the District to manage its budget if the State makes significant cuts in State funding to the District or freezes property taxes.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...